Among the numerous comets in our solar system, few are periodic while most of them are non-periodic. Non-periodic means that the comets will no longer return close to the sun in their regular orbit. For this reason, non-periodic comets appear just once and can no longer be seen afterward. One such comet is The Great Comet of 1744 which was observed by a mass number of people. One of the most interesting things about this comet is its unique display as it reached the perihelion.
Overview of The Great Comet of 1744
The Great Comet of 1744 was a comet observed between 1743 and 1744 and is officially named C/1743 X1. The alphabet “X” in its official name represents the fact that it is a non-periodic comet. The comet was also named Comet de Chéseaux in the era that it was observed. Although the comet is not going to return again, considerable studies have been done on this comet due to its interesting phenomena of “fantail display” that has been discussed below.
The Great Comet of 1744 was first discovered by Jan de Munck in late 1743. This was with the help of traditional telescopic equipment that was available at that time such as the telescopes used by seamen. To have confirmation of the comet observed by Jan de Munck, many others also tried to spot it. In the second week of December 1743, Dirk Klinkenberg also discovered the comet as well as Jean Phillippe de Chéseaux. For this reason, it is also called Comet Klinkenberg-Chéseaux.
Initially, the comet was not visible to the naked eye. However, in 1744, it was clearly visible in many parts of the world because of a high absolute magnitude of 0.5.
Observation of The Great Comet of 1744
Although the observation arc of this planet was just 71 days, the timeline of the Great Comet of 1744 has many interesting observations, as discussed below.
The first known discovery of this comet was on 29th November 1743 by Jan de Munck at Middelburg. The second discovery of the same comet was on 9th December by Dirk Klinkenberg at Haarlem. The third discovery of The Great Comet of 1744 was on 13th December 1743 by Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux. Chéseaux was the astronomer who observed this comet the most, which is why historical records by Chéseaux for this comet are the highest. On the first observation, Chéseaux remarked that the comet resembled a nebulous star and did not have any tail. The coma of this comet was measured at five minutes across.
In 1743, the comet was not visible to the naked eye as it was far from the perihelion. However, in early 1744, the comet started to get visible and with time, it got brighter. By 18th February 1744, the comet was having two tails and looked as bright as Venus. However, it was still not at the perihelion point.
By the 1st of March 1744, The Great Comet of 1744 is reported to have reached the perihelion with a distance of 0.2 Astronomical Units. By this time, the comet was shining so brightly that it was apparent during the daytime as well. The apparent magnitude of this comet reached -7 which is why it was called one of The Great Comets in our solar system.
The most interesting event related to this comet also occurred in early March 1744. Astronomers such as Chéseaux noticed that the comet was having six different tails that were rising above the horizon. It showed the image of a Japanese hand fan to the observers and became quite a mystery as to how this happened. The sight was reported on 6th March 1744 and was there for a while. This tail-like structure has been studied by astronomers for many years. Although it isn’t new that comets have multiple tails. However, they are mostly two or rarely three. A six-tail comet was something quite astonishing to the observers as such a comet had not been seen in the past.
As Chéseaux was the astronomer leading the study of The Great Comet of 1744, he was also the one to observe it at last on March 9 in the Northern Hemisphere. Other observers saw it in the Southern Hemisphere for some time. These people also reported a tail-like structure and suggested that the tail length was about 90 degrees by March 18th. This was one of the highest ones ever recorded for any comet that has passed through our solar system. To date, there are very few comets that have reached this point.
As the comet started to sway away from the sun and our planet, the light got dimmer. The comet was not visible in daylight at first. Later on, it even became dim for the nighttime. Eventually, it could no longer be seen by the naked eye as it was quite far from perihelion. The last known observation, possibly with a telescope, of The Great Comet of 1744 was on 22nd April 1744.
Another phenomenon associated with the observation of The Great Comet of 1744 is that there were audible sounds associated with this comet. This has been found in the ancient Chinese astronomical records. One way this is possible is because particles from the comet could have interacted with the magnetosphere of the Earth and that creates sounds. This phenomenon is also described as aurora. Several other people who were not astronomers also observed this comet.
The Tail-Structure of The Great Comet of 1744
The tail structure of The Great Comet of 1744 was a big mystery for many years because nothing like that was seen before. One study suggested that this is because of three active sources of the cometary nucleus which were exposed to solar radiations. Others believe that this could have been because of dust striae which were seen in the tails of a few comets. However, a conclusive answer to this puzzle has not been found. Even as we study more, the comet is not a periodic one which is why it will not be easy to figure out how it all happened.
About the Discoverers – Dirk Klinkenberg & Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux
Dirk Klinkenberg was born on 15 November 1709 and died on 3rd March 1799. He was among the discoverers of The Great Comet of 1744. He also discovered many other comets such as C/1748 K1 and C/1762 K1. He also has a famous asteroid named after him called Asteroid 10427 Klinkenberg. He was also the secretary of the Dutch government for 40 years and had expertise in the field of mathematics as well.
The most known observer of The Great Comet of 1744 was Jean-Philippe Loys de Cheseaux. He was born on 4th May 1718 and died on 30th November 1751. He was a Swiss astronomer who has major achievements under his name. Other than The Great Comet of 1744, he also discovered C/1746 P1 on his own. He also presented a list of nebulae in the solar system of which 8 were his discoveries. While this list was initially private, it was made public in 1892. Cheseaux also suggested that if the universe is infinite, the night sky should be bright.
Many other accomplishments of Cheseaux include research on Biblical Chronology, astronomical observations in the Book of Daniel, and his work which was published in the Mémoires posthumes de M. de Cheseaux (1754).
The Great Comet of 1744 is one of the most interesting comets that has passed through our solar system. While there are many other top comets in our solar system, this one has stayed significant due to the 6-tail structure, the bright light, and its interesting observations around the world such as audible sound phenomenon. We can conclude that The Great Comet of 1744 was quite a unique one compared to many other comets that have passed out of the solar system.